Driving from the UK to China Part 1: The departure

Over the summer of 2018, Thuymi, Nick and myself left for the adventure of driving from the UK to China. The idea of the Mongol Rally has been high in our minds, but since we wanted to enjoy the journey, we decided to do it on our own, buying a car for 1,500 pounds 2 days before departure and hit the road. We could’ve taken more time, but had to run on a timeline to make it for the World Nomad Games.

You can read our adventures through this photoblog series supported by Nikon Middle East & Africa. Photos in this article are shot with a Nikon D850 using both Nikkor lenses 14-24mm and 24-70mm.

Leaving the UK

On the morning of the 16th of July, we said our goodbyes to my sister and her husband in London, who were so generous as to host us for the week in London. We set off with our trusty 1,500 pound 2001 Honda CRV car towards the east, half way around the world. I was super fearful that the car that I had purchased was a bomb and was going to breakdown on the first day. Getting out of London was easy enough at that time in the morning, however we were panicking as we had yet to book any car insurance, something that is require for your vehicle to cross borders.

Crossing to France

So I was calling insurance guy as we were driving in a mad hurry trying to get everything down before we got to Dover to catch the 1015 P and O ferry to Calais, France. After literally making the research while in the car towards the port, I made tons of phone calls and we finally got the insurance email as we were the second car to go through customs. We got the car on the ferry and relaxed for an hour and half while we cross the English Channel. The boat has a cafe, few slot machines, a cafeteria, a king of kids area with some arcades, in a nutshell, enough of everything to entertain you while you cross.

As we got off, we got on the road straight away. The idea for the day was that we had just been in France and western Europe, so didn’t want to waste days there. So we wanted to head as far as we could one day one, while seeing a few countries quickly through the way.

Stopover in Belgium, Luxembourg

So we went through the top of France and arrive in Belgium at the little town of Mont. This was a coffee and cake stop so we could stretch the legs, walk around and see a new city. We then continued on the road and headed into Luxembourg city. There wasn’t too much to do so we took the time to walk around and explore the city a bit. We got meat and chips from the centre square. Breakfast in England, snack in France, lunch in Belgium and dinner in Luxembourg, casual! A big day spent in 4 countries. 

Main square of Mons

There were quite a few tourists as well. After seeing Luxembourg and ticking off another country on the road of our journey, we headed back into France to get on the main highway as we planned to spend the night in Strasbourg. Roads have been great so far, all highways and fast. I have been worried about the car but it is doing a great job at a good speed. We kept driving all evening until we arrived in Strasbourg, a city right on the far side of France. We stayed at a pretty basic self service entry hotel which was just enough to go through the night. But with limited wifi and no air con in the room we may as well have been staying in a sauna.

Light dinner in Luxembourg
Tanking and getting some snacks for the next day

Day 2: Morning in Strasbourg

Another long day planned as we got up super early and headed into Strasbourg to see the town a bit before all the tour buses and workers got in there. We found a parking around the canal and headed for a walk into the old town and were immediately tempted by the bread, cheese and meats – so we bought all of them. It has a very Amsterdam feel as we walked along the canals and did some sightseeing. We went to the central church and checked out the area. We had our espressos at a café and got quickly back on the road.

Coffee and news before hitting day 2!

Passing by Liechtenstein, Germany and Switzerland

We entered Germany as we headed east to go and visit Liechtenstein. We told ourselves there would be no other reason to come over there another time so went to visit and send postcards to our family. On our way we stopped at the petrol station over a crystal blue lake, one of the most beautiful views for a petrol station ever. Our first impressions was how small it was. Only one main street, but still quite busy. Then, we got back on the road as we still had a little way to go. We headed south until we reached Italy.

Random stop in Germany
Saw this as a good opportunity to wash our feet, Germany

But to get to Italy the car had to face its biggest challenge, to get up the kickbacks all the way over the alps and into Italy. This road was tough and steep. We got there and had a great view to go with it.

Switzerland

Flew the drone up as well but we lost the SD card with all the footage as Thuymi wanted to transfer the files but with making all the snack probably lost it somewhere when we jumped out the car. She was quite upset and I was quite sad as well because that was one of the most popular windy roads in the world between Switzerland and Italy.

Arrival in Italy

Coming down the mountain as a totally different experience. Tough on the car. Sharp turns and at speed. Tight. Cars nearly colliding. Brake pads starting to burn. Border crossing about to close and we nearly didn’t make it. Then we got to our destination as the late summer sun was nearly down.

Windy road leading to Lake Como, Italy.

We were heading to Lake Como and before we got to our spot, we had to drive 45 mins around the lake navigating more tight turns but with beautiful views. We stayed by the lake, convenient enough to catch the boat around to visit Bellagio the day after.

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